An Australian naval ship has rushed humanitarian and medical supplies to Tonga in the wake of a devastating eruption despite an outbreak of coronavirus infecting crew on the voyage.
The HMAS Adelaide arrived in Tonga on Wednesday, 11 days after a volcanic eruption brought on a tsunami that wiped out homes and villages.
Twenty-three crew on board the Australian navy vessel tested positive to COVID on Tuesday, but defence minister Peter Dutton said the personnel still delivered the relief through “entirely contactless” means.
Tonga has only recorded one case of coronavirus since the pandemic began and 61% of the population are fully vaccinated.
“Australia continues to take every precaution and are delivering our assistance to our partners in accordance with the COVID-safe practices that we have put in place with the Government of Tonga,” Dutton said.
The Defence Department said in a statement earlier this week that the cases tested positive after the ship set sail, all crew were vaccinated against COVID-19, and those infected were only displaying mild symptom.
“The positive COVID cases, and close contacts, are being isolated and managed in accordance with COVID-safe protocols,” the statement said.
“HMAS Adelaide has excellent medical facilities on board, including COVID testing capabilities and a 40-bed hospital with operating theatres and a critical care ward.”
The ship also brought engineering equipment and helicopters to assist logistics. A New Zealand naval ship that arrived days earlier brought a desalination plant capable of producing 70,000 litres a day amid the Tonga government saying drinking water was a priority.
Australia is also assisting with the restoration of power and communications, with damage to Tonga’s international communications cables cutting off many families from having conversations with loved ones.
Australia has delivered more than 40 tonnes of emergency relief supplies, including shelter materials, water and sanitation supplies, equipment to restore communications and personal protective equipment for people clearing ash.